As the Congress-led Democratic Front government completes two years in office on October 31, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh talked to Hindustan Times about his government’s performance.
What do you consider your government’s achievement as it completes two years?
The two years were good for development. Maharashtra topped the list of investment with Rs 26,000 crore investment coming our way. We were able to achieve over 8 per cent growth rate.
Floods for two successive years and two bomb blasts were the unfortunate incidents. I am happy that there was no communal trouble after blasts. People showed maturity and defeated the terrorists’ designs.
Don’t you think the state’s finances continue to be in a bad shape? The state’s debt will be reaching Rs 1.25 lakh crore by the year-end.
In spite of debts, we will be able to repay them. Half the loan is borrowed from the Centre. New loans are not being raised except for irrigation.
The Rs 16,000 crore we are spending on incomplete irrigation projects will be provided through budget with an allocation of Rs 8,000 crore a year.
Why has the government failed to stop farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha?
The suicides are being reported in a particular area in Vidarbha. But let me tell you that in the last six months, we have found out that the number of people committing suicide because of the debt is decreasing.
The reports from Vidarbha are exactly the opposite. Almost every other day, one suicide is reported.
In India, 1 lakh suicides are reported every year. According to police, 15 per cent of them are in Maharashtra and over 4,000 are reported in Mumbai. People kill themselves for various reasons. Not all suicides reported in Vidarbha are committed by indebted farmers.
Earlier, it was 55 per cent, last month it came down to 40 per cent. In our opinion, farmers’ suicides are on the decline.
You mean to say only 40 per cent of the farmers’ suicides were because of debt and the rest killed themselves for other reasons?
Yes. Suicides can be for any reason. The government is not liable for them except those committed by indebted farmers. Any suicide is being passed off as farmers’ suicide.
For instance, an old man killed himself on Nagpur assembly premises. There were lots of news reports about the incident. Later, it was learnt that the person was not a farmer. People from even rich families do kill themselves.
Why is the number of indebted farmers committing suicides deceasing?
We have implemented two relief packages for farmers in Vidarbha. We are trying to remove the problems leading to distress situation among farmers. We are also counselling them.
You really think the relief packages are working?
Any package will not stop suicides completely. We are trying to remove the causes that force farmers to take the extreme steps. We have stopped recovery of existing loans.
We are giving new loans at 6 per cent interest. Those who were going to moneylenders are now availing this benefit. So far, we have distributed Rs 1,700 crore this year for loans. We plan to disburse Rs 2,500 crore with two-year moratorium on repayment.
Most victims were cotton farmers. The situation has also worsened as the market prices of cotton are dipping. Did you ask the Centre to impose heavy duty on cotton import?
I have written to the Centre thrice seeking a hike in the import duty on cotton from 10 per cent to 60 per cent. I was told that it was not necessary as the cotton being imported was not grown here.
Still, I think more import duty will put psychological pressure on the traders to pay more. However, the textiles’ lobby is not letting the Centre do it.
There are angry reactions over land acquisition for special economic zones. Why is the government ignoring the protests?
We have 65 special economic zones (SEZs) coming up in the state. Farmers are agitating to get a good price for their land. The government will not forcefully acquire land but will work as a facilitator. Land will be brought at market value and no land under irrigation will be acquired for SEZs.
What is the status of Mumbai's makeover?
We are at the take-off stage. The results will be visible by March 2007. Newly-constructed roads will be ready by December this year.
What about the municipal and district elections? Will Congress go it alone?
We have left it to the local units but I am in favour of an alliance with the NCP for civic elections in Mumbai and Thane. Both parties should work out solution on seat sharing.
Do you think the Congress and the NCP will have cordial relations in the long term as both compete for political space?
That is bound to happen. When the opposition is strong we have better relations. When it is weak, everyone tries to occupy the vacant space. Our alliance is need-based.
Are you comfortable in the Congress with your colleagues like Revenue Minister Narayan Rane who has not hidden his ambition to become chief minister?
Everybody is ambitious. Politics is a game of patience.